“The Web of Fear” is an adventure of the fifth season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired between in 1968. It follows “The Enemy of the World” and it’s a six parts adventure written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln and directed by Douglas Camfield.
The Tardis is flying with its doors open with the risk for the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling) of being sucked out. When Jamie finally manages to close the doors, the Tardis materializes in space, where it gets enveloped into a strange web-like substance.
The Doctor manages to move the Tardis, which arrives in a London Underground tunnel. There, he and his companions discover that the area was invaded by the Yetis, again controlled by the Great Intelligence. The travelers find Professor Travers, with whom they try to stop them. To handle that dangerous situation comes Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney).
The script for “The Abominable Snowmen” was very well received by script editor Peter Bryant. During the fifth season, Bryant was scheduled to be promoted the role of “Doctor Who” producer so even before the adventure was transmitted he asked its authors Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln to write a sequel.
This new story kept the Great Intelligence, the Yetis, modified to appear more threatening, and Professor Travers but was set in London, many years after “The Abominable Snowmen”. Nicholas Courtney had already appeared in “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, in “The Web of Fear” he was originally cast to play Captain Knight. The production had some trouble finding a suitable actor to play Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart and eventually Courtney was “promoted”, giving rise to one of the longest-lived and most beloved characters in “Doctor Who”.
Inevitably, today fans think about Nicholas Courtney’s character as one of the Doctor’s friends but his debut was ambiguous, in a situation in which the characters didn’t know who they could trust. That’s because in “The Web of Fear” there’s a group of soldiers and scientists who must face the Yeti with the suspicion that someone among them is controlled by the Great Intelligence.
The story, a variation of the base under siege isolated from the rest of the world theme, is mostly set in the tunnels of the London Underground. The setting is claustrophobic, also because of their poor light, and a Yeti might be anywhere in the shadows. The sets are very well done and at that time someone thought that this adventure was filmed in the real Underground tunnels!
This situation also helps to turn one of the weaknesses of the stories of the time in a strong point. In the classic series, especially in the adventures composed of several episodes, padding was normal to fill up the time. Normally, this slowed down the pace and could become boring, instead in “The Web of Fear” when the characters more around the tension is kept high thanks to that environment and the constant danger experienced by the characters.
That’s where the new battle takes place between the Great Intelligence and the Doctor, who is lured into a trap whose purpose is made clear only in the last few episodes. Between the two such contenders, the clash is a kind of chess game in which everyone tries to anticipate the other with moves and countermoves. However, the consequence can also be someone’s death.
The story’s atmosphere is dark not only for the lack of light in the tunnels but also because the characters often don’t understand what’s happening. The authors have made a good choice using realistic characters, who may be afraid in such a situation, and not heroic ones. A very appropriate inclusion is Evans, a soldier ended up there by accident, so much that he keeps on saying that he’s just a driver, and all he just wants is to leave. The actors are really good at showing all those emotions, contributing to the high quality of “The Web of Fear”.
“The Web of Fear” was one of the adventures of the ’60s almost completely lost. Only the first episode had been recovered and was released on DVD in the “Lost in Time” box set. In October 2013 the discovery of five of the six episodes was announced and their publication gave us the chance to admire it almost fully.
Unfortunately, the third episode of “The Web of Fear” hasn’t been recovered. For the DVD edition a reconstruction based on 37 existing images along with the audio , which was available, was created. Honestly, compared to the animated versions of lost episodes such as the ones in “The Invasion”, the reconstruction is disappointing: it’s okay if it’s an amateur work done by a group of fans, it’s not good if it’s a work of the BBC that gets sold.
The choice of the reconstruction is particularly penalizing in an adventure such as “The Web of Fear”. Of course, not even a proper animation could replicate its gloomy atmosphere but the difference between the intact episodes and the reconstruction is enormous. Years ago I saw the first episode when it was the only one available and a reconstruction of the others and I liked the story but thanks to the discovery of more episodes I could see that it’s actually even better than I thought. In part this is due to its atmosphere, which can only be appreciated in the intact episodes.
The DVD contains no extras, unlike what normally occurs. There’s only a trailer that advertises the publication of the adventure “The Enemy of the World”, the other found and announced along with “The Web of Fear”. From this point of view, this edition is disappointing but this is not a normal DVD because the episodes were found after decades. As for “The Enemy of the World”, it’s an event and the users of the service iTunes can watch the episodes recovered there as well. In my opinion, this adventure is really good so I would suggest getting it , one way or another.
“The Web of Fear” had a very high reputation despite being almost completely lost. It’s no coincidence that the DVD, despite its limitations, has beaten the sales record for “Doctor Who” editions in the first week after its publication. In my opinion, this adventure’s reputation is absolutely well deserved so I really recommend getting it, one way or another.